Side Kicks: Don’t forget the orange slices

Today is going to be rough.

The Fox Soccer crew is playing its soccer tournament in Los Angeles today — six 7v7 teams with team jerseys from Europe’s top clubs. The teams were picked at random and wouldn’t you know it — I have to wear a Chelsea kit.

No pictures, please.

And I didn’t even get Costigan on my team to back up my lousy midfield play.

It’ll be a hundred degrees out, I haven’t kicked a ball in six months or so, and I reward myself for a good run with a cigarette instead of a celery stick. Great.

So what does this all have to do with this week’s column? Absolutely nothing — I’m just already tired out thinking about the day ahead.

Let’s do this thing …

John/Robert: Down the naysayers; you guys do a great job of answering questions and offering opinions; If people only want black and white news, let them go to Reuters! Two quick questions for Sidekicks: 1. Do you think Landon Donovan could prepare a marketing brochure ala Michael Owen and generate some interest in the Premier League? If so, what teams do you think he could have an impact playing for in England? 2. Is Berbatov ready to be a goal scoring beast for Manchester United? Compared to Rooney and the recently-departed Tevez, Berbs looks positively lazy on the pitch. Is he just a talented poacher or will he mature into a major threat this term? Keep up the great work! Mike

Mike Dunne of Milton, Fla.

Robert: Well said, Mike. We’re just here to skew the facts.

Frankly, I’ve always thought that Donovan would excel in Spain. If there’s one major knock on the guy, it’s his stature. Sure, Messi is small too, but it’s not the same comparison.

Donovan can be very good — excellent, even — but in the Premier League it’s not going to happen every week. Landon has skills, but not the kinds that can always nullify a big, burly defender and leave him in his wake. That’s what separates guys like Messi from the rest of them.

But in Spain, his speed would be a huge asset and he’s got enough talent to deliver there. He also would have to face smaller, yet more nimble defenders in La Liga. A cakewalk? No, certainly not, but I’ve always hoped to see him at a club like Valencia or Deportivo.

And after the USA’s great win over Spain in the Confederations Cup, I’m sure they know who Donovan is now.

As for Berbatov, I do believe he’ll show his worth this season. Let’s face it — there was some serious pressure on the guy last year with Man United being the reigning European and Premier League champs.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I’ve been a fan of his since his Leverkusen days. The Bulgarian has skills, no matter how slow they sometimes appear to be on the pitch. He has a casual style, but it’s just that — his style. Let the results speak for themselves.

He did the job for Spurs in a big way. If he hadn’t, he certainly wouldn’t be at Old Trafford (especially with that price tag). And his value isn’t just in goals scored as he’s a fantastically creative passer of the ball. That was something he probably didn’t get as much of a chance to display last year because Ronaldo was always the facilitator.

With Ronaldo gone, Berbatov will be able to handle a lot more of the ball and not just be an auxillary man. Wherever he’s played before and had that role, he’s succeeded. I believe he’ll do the same for the Red Devils.

John: I really doubt the brochure played a huge role in Owen’s signing, regardless of what anyone says. With the vast amount of information at everyone’s fingertips, not to mention the scouting staff as well as Alex Ferguson having managed against teams with Owen in the lineup numerous times, Man United knew exactly what they were getting.

Hence, teams know what Donovan is capable of doing. He really outdid himself in the Confederations Cup (please, Landon … bottle some of that and save it for 2010) and would probably be best-suited to make an impact at a mid-table club like Everton or maybe even a borderline big club like Aston Villa. I don’t think he (or any American regulars) are good enough to crack the lineup of a big-four side — that day will happen eventually, but not this year.

I’m just as surprised as anyone about Berbatov. He killed it while he was playing for Spurs, but maybe he’s strangely more suited to play for a club where most of the goal-scoring responsibilities rest on his shoulders as opposed to playing with a bunch of superstars … if that makes sense.

Let’s say hypothetically speaking that all players could only play for their home country’s top soccer division. Which country would have the best league? Right now the English Premier League is arguably the best league but only because of the huge influx of foreign talent and money, though La Liga is catching up recently. The EPL would not be the best if it was english-only. My first thought would be that Serie A would be the best because the Italian talent level across the board is so consistent and abundant? Money is not involved in the discussion. What do you guys think?

Jake of Cambridge, Mass.

John: You’re 100 percent right about the real reason of the recent success of the Premier League. If it was English-only, I don’t know that there would be much difference between them and the Scottish Premier League, and I’m being 100 percent serious.

What makes this such a difficult question to answer is we only see the best of the best from each country on display during the World Cup. But if you stocked an entire league of players from one country, then you’re asking us to evaluate the depth of hundreds of players … so this is nothing more than an educated guess.

I’ll throw you a curve ball and say the Dutch or Brazilian league would be the most entertaining (which is what I assume you mean by best). In both systems, players are taught a free-flowing style of play from the time they’re kids. What’s not to love about that?

Robert: I think Argentina would be ridiculous. Of course, leaving Brazil out of the discussion is absurd. Yes, Italy would be great, as would Spain and Holland. Hell, France and Germany would be pretty damn good, too.

This is starting to look like a World Cup quarterfinal. But this question is impossible to really answer. Any one of those nations could beat the other on any given day, so it’s just a push all around.

I think that the spending sprees and inflated offers that have transpired in European Football this summer transfer window are ridiculous and have tarnished the game. I’ve been reading articles the last several months about UEFA meeting with the ECA to discuss placing a cap on team spending. I believe that they proposed that clubs may only spend in proportion to what they earn, something like 50% of their income. It appears to me that this would only make teams greedier, increasingly drive up ticket and merchandising prices, and further gap the filthy rich from the less wealthy teams. Has there been any recent news or decisions made on this topic? What kind of regulation do you think should take place to help stabilize and regulate the football transfer world?

John Panagis of Washington, D.C.

Robert: The recent news is simply that UEFA and the ECA have agreed to put together a commission to deal with the skyrocketing transfer fees and the inequality amongst clubs. It’s basically a big ‘hurry up and wait’ scenario.

So basically, you’ve got it just right.

Plans are to put any changes the commission comes up with into action by the 2010-11 seasons across Europe. What will come of those changes is anybody’s guess at this point.

So what’s the answer?

Look, I’m certainly not even close to being a millionaire so maybe I just can’t understand what it’s like to be in that position, but I would think your life probably wouldn’t change too dramatically if you had to ‘settle’ for ten million dollars instead of twelve.

If you don’t like it, go get a real job in a cubicle or something. Set up a maximum salary and judge every player based on that. Let’s say a 10 million dollar cap (salary and/or transfer fee) for the best players in the world — let’s not forget that those guys are also getting millions from elsewhere in endorsements.

Of course, the players would complain because the owners would simply be getting richer off their sweat and sacrifice. But there’s a remedy for that — performance-based bonuses based on the team, not the individual.

If a team is successful on the pitch, there’s a good chance they’re going to see some increases in the books as well. So if your team wins the title, they get the highest possible bonus. That bonus is then divided amongst the team based on minutes played or some other criteria.

And so on, down the line. Relegated teams get no bonus, just to rub it in. Wow, that’s just cruel.

Okay, didn’t do so hot in economics class, but it’s a shot in the dark. But basically, it puts an end to all the madness going on with prices these days, and it promotes a unified team front for that big end-of-season bonus to always climb the table.

I’d like to read some comments from our viewers on just what they would propose — could make for some interesting discussion.

John: I’m not sure they would leave it open to 50 percent of income, because that opens up debate as to what teams consider “income.” Does it comes before or after operating expenses, etc?

It’s funny you’re asking me this question since I’m as capitalist as it gets, but we’re talking about how to make a league more entertaining, not how to govern a society … so here goes.

Maybe the best thing UEFA could do would be something along the lines of what the NBA does — put a cap on the amount of an individual transfer and also the salary a player can earn. Let’s say that all transfers were capped at 10 million Euros — players would then probably get such “maximum” offers from a number of clubs and would be more inclined to pick the location where he’d fit in the best with the team, not just where he’s paid the most. If a team which isn’t rolling in money really wanted a player, they could save their high bids and scrape together the money when they needed to.

Imagine Fernando Torres accepting a max offer with a team like Sunderland, or Cristiano Ronaldo choosing to play for Fulham instead of Real Madrid. I’d like to see that happen outside of Playstation someday.

Do you think Joe Cole is going to have any space in Ancelloti’s plans? Seeing that Ancelloti has already bought a midfielder and is still looking to buy Wesley Sneijder.

Oghale of Surprise, Az.

John: Most likely. Each manager likes to put their personal stamp on the lineup, and Cole looks like he could be the odd man out.

By the way, is there really a city in Zona named Surprise? Is it next to a city called Expectation? Har.

Robert: That’s a really good question, and one that fully depends on Joe Cole’s preseason form. Coming back from a lengthy injury layoff is tough enough, but knowing you have to perform from the starting gun or risk being shippped off has to be a ridiculous amount of pressure.

Cole has really shown some glimpses of stellar play over the years, but at a club like Chelsea, you have to do more than that to stand out. The injury bug certainly doesn’t help.

If the Blues do indeed pry Wesley Sneijder away from Real, then Cole will have a real fight on his hands to stay with the club (along with a few other players). I don’t think that Ancelotti would let him go for cheap, though. Another team would have to pony up big bucks to get Cole, and if they declined, I don’t think that Ancelotti would be disappointed with the extra depth.

Let’s see how Zhirkov performs during the U.S. tour before we ship Cole off to Villa or Everton.

Guys for the longest time I was a critic of Landon Donovan. For years he would score plenty of goals against Cuba and Haiti, but any time we played true World class teams (like the 3 games in 2007) he would disappear. After watching his performance in the Confed Cup against some of the best teams in the world I have completely changed my attitude towards him. He played the best football I have ever seen him play. Now my question is with Davies, Altidore, and Gooch already finding new homes and players like Benny and even Clark rumored to be getting interest, why has nothing about Donovan moving abroad been mentioned? Obviously Germany is not a place he should try but what about Holland or France? I think he could play week in and week out with those guys. What are your thoughts on this?

Josh of Auburn, Ala.

Robert: As mentioned earlier, I think he would be great in Spain, but he seems to be most happy simply being home. And who are we to determine what a man should do with his life?

If he was good enough to play so well against Spain and Brazil last month, then how can that be a knock on what club’s jersey he wears? Of course I would like to see him finally bring it in Europe, but that’s my imagination, not his.

As a Galaxy fan (and all teams L.A.), I salute his commitment to the club and his dedication to the colors, regardless all the outside pressure to move abroad. As long as he continues to show this new burst of confidence in South Africa next summer and beyond, then I don’t care if he spends the rest of his career at the HDC.

It is hard to imagine that no interest exists from European clubs at this point, though. I’ll assume it’s all just being kept very quiet, kind of like the Owen deal to Man United. That one hit like a ton of bricks from out of the blue. Could it happen like that for Donovan?

Maybe, but the Galaxy is finally starting to look like a contender again, and I’m sure that LD wouldn’t mind getting his hands on just one more MLS Cup. Sure, it’s early, but they’re playing extremely well right now — let’s just hope these international friendlies don’t put an end to their solid league form.

John: We discussed this a little bit after the Confed Cup (and in this article, for that matter). Landon is talented enough to play in those leagues. It’s just a question of whether he’s interested in moving and whether teams want him. He did well enough in his time at Bayern Munich, which tells me he’d be fine as a regular for a decent but not quite elite team (Fiorentina? Atletico Madrid?).

I wish I could ask him personally, but I’ve probably destroyed my bridges with him by shredding him in this column throughout the years. Hey, Burnsy … do you have a false moustache I can borrow?

(Side Kicks will return on July 31 …)

Robert Burns is the senior editor of and John Juhasz is a fantasy writer for